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Gothic Relief „Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary“

Gotisches Relief Verkündigung an Maria


Salzburg, around 1500
carved lime wood, mainly original polychrome mounting and gilding
41 ¾×46 ½ in

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” […] “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.“ […] ”How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” […] “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” This is how Luke – as the only one of the Evangelists – describes the Annunciation of the Lord. The present relief is a wonderful example of the sculptural realization of this important biblical scene and was probably created by the hand of a Salzburg master of the late Gothic period (around 1500).

The iconography of the Annunciation shows a wide range of variants in detail. Mary is usually depicted in an interior, which, however, can be designed in a variety of ways. The depicted relief shows the Mother of God in a vault supported by marbled columns. Comparable architecture is found, for example, on a Salzburg reliquary altar (Mariapfarr, 1443) and on the Kefermarkt altar (Upper Austria, 1490/95). A woodcut with a similar image composition (c. 1450/60, National Gallery of Art, Washington) suggests that this particular iconography spread among European sculptors through printed works.

Mary is kneeling at a reading desk (a reference to the prophecy of the Savior in Scripture) and is raising one hand. Mary‘s gesture is an important detail, since the Annunciation has five phases: Conturbatio (excitement), Cogitatio (reflection), Interrogatio (inquiry), Humiliatio (submission) and Meritatio (gratitude), which can only be recognized through gestures. Accordingly, the relief depicted shows the moment of Interrogatio – Mary‘s inquiry (”How will this be?“) and the archangel Gabriel‘s explanation. Gabriel himself is shown kneeling in profile. He is holding a lily branch, a symbol of purity, in his hand. The figure of the mantle-bearing assistant angel is another variant of Annunciation iconography and can also be seen, for example, on Michael Pacher‘s St. Lawrence altar (Neustift, Brixen, 1462/63).

We are extremely pleased to be able to present this relief, one of the few surviving large-scale medieval carvings depicting this important moment in the history of salvation.

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